Faith & Worship: Solitary refinement

Published 8:00 am Thursday, October 25, 2018

In her memoir, “At Seventy,” written in 1984, May Sarton recalls a sermon she heard when she was 10 years old. 

The minister, Samuel McChord Crothers, said, “Go into the inner chamber of your soul — and shut the door.” The words, as Sarton said, “made a great impression on me — and really marked me for life. The slight pause after ‘soul’ did it.” 

Sarton never forgot these words. 

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

We would do well to heed them. The need for solitude has never been greater, especially considering how much we are bombarded each day with gobs of information coming from all directions. 

As a result, our lives can become fragmented.  We need the time and space to process it, think about it and how it impacts our lives.

There is a big difference between being lonely and being alone. The word “alone” literally means “all-one.” 

Being alone with ourselves gives us the needed time to bring all those fragmented pieces of our lives together so we don’t’ “go to pieces.” In solitude, we re-center our lives and restore the oneness of soul. 

“We don’t live at the center”, said Dietrich Bonhoeffer. “We live from the center”. 

I once lead a spiritual retreat, part of which consisted of having the participants find a place where they could be alone.  I instructed them to leave their watches, notebooks and other electronic devices behind. 

After the exercise, some of the participants described how much the experience impacted their lives. However, one participant asked, “What was the point in that?”

The point is we need community, we need each other, but we also need solitude.  We need to find equal time to nourish our souls and to be in conversation with ourselves.    

I love the hymn “In the Garden.” The words tell it all: “I come to the garden alone while the dew is still on the roses.” 

The hymn describes the person waking early in the morning at the break of the day to find solitude in a rose garden.

The human heart has two distinct beats. One is called systolic, which refers to the energy of the heart pumping blood from the chambers to the arteries. The other is called diastolic, referring to the resting of the heart muscle allowing the chambers to fill with blood.  

Like our hearts, our lives need both; energy extending outward to the external world and time to rest and restore our souls. 

Solitude should never be considered a luxury. It is a necessity.

I call it solitary refinement. Invite your soul, find a place of solitude and hang a sign on the door that reads “soul under construction.”

Before Jesus began teaching people the great lessons of life, he spent 40 days and 40 nights alone in the wilderness. 

What was the point in that? If you have to ask, you’ll never know.

The Rev. Ernest Mills, Thermal Belt Unitarian Universalists Fellowship